We have passed this church many, many times on our way home from Estremoz and this week our curiosity finally got the better of us. So we stopped off to take a closer look…

The Chapel of Our Lady of Conceição dos Olivais is located at around two kilometres from the centre of Estremoz, on the road to São Bento do Ameixial. Built in the latter part of the 16th Century it sits on a slight hill surrounded by vineyards alongside the ancient ‘Pedra da Ronca’ dolmen – which loosely translates as ‘The Snoring Stone’…

Dolmen EstremozPedra da Ronca

Tradition has it that after the Christmas midnight mass, children were encouraged to put their ears to the stone in order to hear the roar of the sea, something we are tempted to try out ourselves.

Excavated in 1934 under the supervision of eminent archeologist Manuel Heleno, it would have originally been a sizeable burial chamber of some importance, which is corroborated by the many armatures, arrow heads and other significant artefacts that were unearthed at the time. It is thought to date back to the late neolithic and chalcolithic (copper) ages, which runs from 6,400 BC to 3,500 BC, and would have comprised of four stone walls and roof. Today the earth has grown up around the structure and the only visible part is a single standing stone, although there are a couple of stone blocks preserved closer to the church that may have been part of the original structure.

Chapel São Bento Ameixial EstremozThe 16th century chapel

The Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição dos Olivais itself is pretty unremarkable and has been remodelled and added to many times over the years. It was probably built close to the spiritual site of the dolmen with the intention of evangelizing it, but is sadly not used today. Over the centuries, apart from its role as a place of worship, it temporarily housed Portuguese soldiers and weopons during the Restoration Wars (1640-1668) and also served as a refuge for the wounded during the nearby Battle of Ameixial against the Spanish in 1663.

Chapel São Bento Ameixial EstremozThe outside is simple, with a small courtyard and a couple of crosses. One offers great views across the vines to Estremoz and has a base decorated with skulls, aparently something that was quite common in the period.

We would love to get hold of the keys to take a look inside one day…

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